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A Classic Film: "Fences"

By Hannah Huckins; For the Clock
On March 31, 2017

A Classic Film: "Fences" 

Hannah Huckins

For The Clock 

For any devoted Denzel Washington fans, “Fences” is the movie to see. Following Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and his family, it is a story about self-sacrifice, forgiveness and perseverance.

“Fences” is directed by Denzel Washington, and he also plays the lead role. The film was released in December 2016, and played at The Flying Monkey last week. The screenplay was written by August Wilson. It is an adaptation of his play by the same name.

The play “Fences” premiered in 1985. It is the sixth story in a ten-part series called the “Pittsburgh Cycle.” It received the Tony Award for Best Play and the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The story takes place in 1950s Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Troy Maxson is a 53-year-old husband and father who works as a garbage man. Troy is obsessed with what it means to be a man and has a difficult time adapting to the changing times. He is stuck in the past, in a time when a man earned respect from his family simply by putting a roof over their heads.

When his teenage son Cory confronts Troy about their lack of a relationship, he asks his father, “Why don’t you like me?” Troy responds with his own question: “What rule says I got to like you?"

Troy is dumbfounded when, despite his years of working from Monday to Friday to provide for his family, his son loses all respect for him.

Troy grew up with an abusive father and left home when he was only 15. He had to steal to survive and eventually killed a man during a robbery. Troy was sent to prison, and when he got out, he played baseball for the professional Negro leagues. Unfortunately, he did not get to play major league baseball, which did not accept black players at the time.

Because Troy could not achieve his dream of playing professional baseball, he became convinced that his sons, Cory and Lyons, would never achieve their dreams either. He hounds his sons to “get real jobs,” saying that Cory will never make it as a professional football player and Lyons will never make it as a musician.

As a contrast to Troy’s strict beliefs and gray perception of life, his brother Gabe lives outside the boundaries of mechanized modern society. After having sustained a head wound in World War II, Gabe became mentally impaired. He spends his days walking to his own beat, chasing hell hounds, and speaking with Saint Peter.

Viola Davis, who plays Troy’s wife, Rose, received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

While Troy gives money to the family, Rose holds the family together. She is by far the strongest character in the movie. She stays with a husband she no longer loves, even after he has an affair and brings home his infant daughter. Rose chooses to raise the little girl as her own.

Most of the film takes place in the Maxsons’ backyard, and in this way, the film resembles a play.

Rather than following the characters as they go about their lives, the camera stays in their house and backyard as they walk in and out of the scenes.

The small backyard, surrounded by buildings, junk cars and wire fences, gives viewers the feeling that the characters are fenced in. As Troy continues to work on building a new fence around the backyard throughout the movie, it creates the illusion that in some ways the characters create their own constraints. Troy puts up a wall between himself and his family through the choices he makes.

In this drama, Washington and Davis give an emotional performance, portraying complicated characters facing real hardships that many can empathize with. They capture the hardships faced by the black community in this slice-of-life film. This is not an action-packed movie, but the actors’ performances will draw tears from their audience.

“Fences” does not sugarcoat life and the difficult decisions that everyone must make. At what point does an individual put themselves first before they give everything they have to the people around them?

Fences” is available on DVD and Blu-ray. 


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